Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 (CD review)
Truth to tell, I find the last few of Jean Sibelius's seven symphonies rather tiresome. They all begin sounding alike to me and repeating what the composer had already done in his first few symphonies. Frankly, I find his tone poem En Saga, included here, a far better, more meaningful, more colorful work than either the Symphony No. 5 or 7.
Of course, Sibelius would have lumped me into the category of those who simply didn't understand what he was up to. As he said, "Only a very few people in this world understand what I attempt and achieve in my symphonies. Most of them do not have a clue what it is all about."
Count me clueless.
But that's neither here nor there. The question is whether Sir Colin Davis in his stereo recordings of the works with the Boston Symphony are worthwhile interpretations, and here we must count them resounding successes. They certainly capture Sibelius's dark, forbidding, northern landscapes, his contrasts, his themes, and his variations in vivid detail. OK, maybe Davis's more-recent recordings with the London Symphony (RCA) do it even better by expanding and broadening the music further and being a tad more expressive, but these BSO interpretations (originally on Philips) will do nicely, too.
What a lot of people never realized about these Philips BSO recordings from the mid Seventies, though, is that the company miked them for potential quadraphonic playback, a technology they never eventually released to the home. Until now. PentaTone engineers have gone back to the four-channel tapes and present them on this hybrid SACD in ordinary two-channel stereo for playback on ordinary CD players and in four-channel Super Audio for multichannel systems using an SACD player. I don't have four-channel playback, but I did listen through an SACD player, finding the sound perhaps a touch clearer than from a regular Philips disc; it was hard to tell. Still, it's not as clear as Davis's later RCA recordings. Nevertheless, if you have the proper surround-sound equipment, you might want to give this disc your consideration.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.